Rebuilding a program isn’t an easy thing to do, yet St. Francis University has seemingly been a part of the vicious cycle for several years running. In Rob Krimmel’s first season at the helm – after serving as a Red Flash assistant coach for 12 seasons – the NEC basement dweller struggled once again, yet there were some silver linings to be found. Two members of Krimmel’s freshmen class, Ben Millaud-Meunier and Stephon Mosley, were selected to the NEC all-rookie team. Millaud-Meunier, whose work ethic has been lauded by Krimmel, made 47% of his shots, with a majority of those coming from the perimeter. Sophomore Earl Brown, after an uninspiring rookie campaign, emerged as one of the best rebounders of the conference and took home the NEC’s most improved player of the year award. Only 13 players in the nation bettered Brown defensive rebounding percentage of 25.9%.
Several other underclassmen played significant roles on the rebuilding Red Flash, with more than 75% of the team’s available minutes falling to a freshman or sophomore. Perhaps due to the youth movement in Loretto, the inexperienced Red Flash dropped 19 of their first 20 contests, en route to another disappointing and ultimately uncompetitive season.
Injuries surely deserved part of the blame, with team star Umar Shannon failing to recapture his old magic a season removed from an ACL tear. As is the case for several athletes recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, Shannon had difficultly clearing the mental hurdle of trusting his knee when competing at full speed on the hardwood. It led to an inconsistent junior season, although Shannon will return next season to provide the senior presence Krimmel so desperately needs on this roster.
In addition to Shannon’s struggles, senior Anthony Ervin, arguably the second most valuable player of the 2011-12 season behind Scott Eatherton, saw limited playing time due to a nagging groin injury. His condition improved for the second half of the season, and not surprisingly, so did the Red Flash’s performance. They won four of their final nine games, which included a grueling double overtime loss at Central Connecticut that could have easily gone St. Francis’ way.
Best Moment – After slogging their way to a miserable 0-11 start, the Red Flash stunned the community by upsetting Central Connecticut, 67-60, in Loretto for the NEC opener. In the victory, Earl Brown corralled 25 rebounds, the most by any Division I player since the 2009-10 season. If Brown wasn’t the focal point of the opposition’s game plan before the victory, he certainly was now.
Worst Moment – As much as the Red Flash lost in the 2012-13 season, nothing really paled in comparison to the tumultuous offseason the program had to endure previously. Therefore, it remains perfectly logical to cite the Red Flash’s past offseason as their worst moment. In a span of two weeks last spring, St. Francis had parted ways with head coach Don Friday and budding star Scott Eatherton. Those chain of events essentially guaranteed the Red Flash would go through yet another rebuilding season, if not more.
Anthony Ervin – On a team that sorely needed leadership, Ervin struggled to get healthy in his senior season. When he finally was effective for the second half of the season, however, Ervin averaged 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.4% from behind the arc. His graduation leaves a leadership void that will be transferred to Shannon, as the only senior who could receive meaningful minutes next year. (24 games, 4.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.8 apg)
Looking Ahead to the 2013-14 Season
With many assuming the Red Flash will once again struggle for relevancy, it remains plausible that Krimmel could begin to reap the benefits of having one of the youngest rosters in D-I basketball last season. By next November, Shannon will be two years removed from his knee surgery and could return to the form he once displayed as a promising sophomore. The soon-to-be-sophomore class of Ronnie Drinnon, Greg Brown, Mosley, and Millaud-Meunier will have another offseason to improve their game and provide an impact. Brown could emerge as the league’s best rebounder and double double machine with more work. It all adds up to an intriguing second year under Krimmel. With a little bit of luck in the injury department, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Red Flash sneak into the NEC playoffs for the first time in three years. A return to the upper echelon of the conference, however, is highly unlikely, even in a basketball climate full of parity.